Hyundai i30 N v Volkswagen Golf GTI v Honda Civic Type R 2018 Comparison

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Hyundai’s hard-charging new i30 N goes toe-to-toe with the two hot hatch benchmarks — the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf GTI — on track and tarmac

Hangin’ tough

Being the new kid on the block is tough, especially when you’re trying to fit in with well established, well recognised and well respected contemporaries with illustrious pedigrees.

Hyundai knows this, which is why it’s pulled out all the stops to ensure its first hot hatch, the i30 N, is well equipped to battle toe-to-toe with its most direct rivals – and maybe even teach them a thing or two.

For our first Hyundai i30 N comparo, we’ve assembled two of the world’s finest front-wheel drive hot hatches.

Hyundai i30 N v Volkswagen Golf GTI v Honda Civic Type R

From Japan it’s the wicked Honda Civic Type R, the undisputed King of kiloWatts in its class and winner of our previous hot hatch match alongside the all-wheel drive Ford Focus RS and the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance Edition 1.

Meantime from Germany is the latest, cheapest and purest version of the best-known exemplar of the breed, the ubiquitous Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Unlike the Honda and, for now in Australia, the Hyundai, VW’s legendary Golf GTI is available in more than one spec — in fact it’s available in multiple guises, including manual and automatic, three-door and five-door, and range-topping R form, which can also be had as a wagon.

The new Hyundai i30 N belts out a very handy 202kW, the Golf GTI 169kW, Civic Type R 228kW

The newest, most affordable and likely most popular of these is the new Golf GTI Original, priced at $37,490 plus on-road costs. At $39,990 plus ORCs, the single-spec i30 N is therefore $2500 pricier, while the single-spec Civic Type R is $11,000 more expensive at $50,990 plus ORCs.

In the absence of the low-output i30 N available in Europe – or an automatic version, which is coming next year – and a full-time, five-door 180kW Golf GTI ‘Performance’ model, this trio includes the cheapest version of each model and is the closest match on price.

Besides, just a week after the Australian launch of the i30 N and less than three months since the January release of the GTI Original — based on the upgraded Golf ‘7.5’ that arrived last July – putting both front-drive hot hatches up against the standard-setting Civic Type R in a road and track comparo has never been more timely, irrespective of what the stopwatch might say.

The Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf GTI Original will be hard to beat

Step by step

We’ve written plenty about all three of these pocket rockets before, so we’ll spare you the step by step repetition of their highly comparable equipment lists.

Suffice to say they’re all very well-equipped, although the Honda and Volkswagen omit proprietary satellite-navigation, and the Civic doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity.

We should also note that the i30 N on test is equipped with the $3000 Luxury Pack that adds niceties not offered at base level, giving it a price-as-tested of $42,990 plus ORCs.

The cabin of the Hyundai i30 N is functional but not overtly sporty

The i30 N on test, therefore, is priced $5500 higher than the Golf GTI but $8000 lower than the Civic Type R.

There’s similar separation when it comes to performance specifications too, despite the factr all three cars run a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turb-petrol engine.

Without overboost, the Golf GTI makes 169kW/350Nm — 33kW/3Nm fewer than the i30 N (202kW/353Nm) and 59kW/50Nm behind the Civic Type R (229kW/400Nm).

All drive their front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission, all feature four-wheel disc brakes and electric power steering, and all ride on a MacPherson-strut front, multi-link rear suspension set-up.

They even run very similar electronic driver assistance programs, though only the Honda and Hyundai offer the bonus of adaptive dampers on the grades tested here.

The best hot hatches, it seems, cut their teeth at the Nurburgring

Let’s try it again

The Wodonga TAFE circuit in north-eastern Victoria has staged more than a few comparisons for The tight and twisty track is handy for sorting the grippy from the grippier, often allowing cars with a great chassis to get the jump on higher-horsepower opponents.

With the mercury hovering around 28C and a light dusting of, well, dust on the asphalt, we spent the morning shooting video in a bid to clear the grit. With the housekeeping in order, it was time to line-up the first of our trio for a blat around the mile-long (1.61km) course.

Being sticklers for running things alphabetically, the Civic Type R was first out of the blocks and the aggression of its VTEC TURBO engine was quickly evident as it launched down the main straight.

The Civic Type R has more attitude and more power than the rest, punching out 228kW

The hard left hairpin soon tells us the Honda’s sharp steering is just the ticket for quickly correcting lift-off oversteer, biting hard into the blacktop and perfectly aiming the nose at the next series of fast, open esses.

The Honda shines under brakes too, and though it likes to wag its tail a little if you’re hard on the picks while turning, the later braking made possible by its stronger stoppers paid big dividends at Wodonga.

Call it what you want

But if the Honda’s helical limited-slip differential was of obvious benefit on the track, it quickly became evident that the leccy-mechy (electronically-actuated mechanical) diff in the i30 N was as well.

Getting on – and staying on – the power early helped the Hyundai grapple its way out of corners almost as quickly as the Honda, and its low-end grunt made it feel like it was driving from the apex just as hard.

We found the i30 N lapped more quickly not in N mode but with the suspension set a little soft, using body lean to get more grip on the outside wheels and to settle steering as the vehicle dives under brakes.

Considering the $40K asking price, the Hyundai i30 N offers mega bang for your bucks

Combined with a feelsome gearbox and clutch action, the new kid tore from corner to corner with the deftness of a seasoned pro.

Of course, the steering isn’t as tack-sharp as the Civic’s and the lack of top-end grunt was evident on both short straights. We also found that brake feel changed slightly after the i30 N was punished for repeated laps, the pedal sinking slightly before recovering on at least one occasion.

Notwithstanding that and given the mega difference in price, the i30 N’s best lap time of 1:00.542 – about seven-tenths of a second slower than the Type R – was a stellar effort.

There’s no mistaking the intent of the Honda Civic Type R’s cabin

Time is on our side

Spoiler alert: The Golf GTI set the slowest lap time around our test track, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. And, like the other two, all of its times were within a 10th or two.

The German engine loves a rev and is equally happy churning away at lower rpms, giving it a far different – and entirely exploitable – character to that of its peers.

The gearshift, however, is vague by comparison, meaning it’s easy to find the wrong gate when you’re trying too hard.

The Volkswagen Golf GTI three-door is an impressive all-rounder

We found the steering too light, but still communicative, but the Golf’s ultimate downfall on track was its lack of a real differential. VW uses torque vectoring by brakes to mimic the action of a proper mechanical diff, but we found it caused the front-end to push wide, ultimately robbing the Volksy of mid-corner pace.

Coupled with a hint of axle tramp and torque steer and the Golf GTI’s time of 1:01.869 – about 1.3sec slower than the Korean upstart — is actually quite commendable.

However, it was third on the track on this occasion and, although it closed the gap in a straight line, it was also the slowest to 100km/h at 6.9 seconds – versus 6.5 for the Hyundai and 5.9 for the Honda.

The Volkswagen Golf GTI’s interior is old-school cool

If you go away…

When car enthusiasts like us take a trip, we usually take the long way. The circuitous, fun way that avoids the freeways and maddening crowds. Our road tests are no different; and for this test there was no better road on which to sample our hot hatch trio than Victoria’s stunning Great Alpine Road.

The winding corners, challenging grades and spectacular, undulating backdrop make it perfect for a test like this, while the changing road surfaces give us a great chance to see how our hot hatches fair in real-world conditions.

On this front, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the level of ride comfort afforded by each car ran in an opposite direction to the times we scored on track.

Driving these three scorchers on road and track? Hugely entertaining!

The Volkswagen Golf GTI proved most comfortable – and quietest – with the Hyundai i30 N next in line and the Honda Civic Type R trailing by a fair margin.

But it wasn’t just ride quality that upset the Honda apple cart. Road noise was a significant contributor to the ‘raw’ cabin experience in the Civic, its firmly padded and heavily bolstered seats proving another detractor to on-road comfort – especially during extended periods in the saddle.


Late summer heat showed little effect on our hard-charging hot hatches on the road, each maintaining a cool cabin in spite of unseasonably warm Alpine temperatures.

However, the Honda’s well-honed adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistant were the best match for long-distance cruising – at least on smooth surfaces – and proved a welcome accomplice to lengthy highway ‘transport’ stages.

There were two things that did get our goat, though. The first was how tricky the Type R touch-screen was to use, not just because of its more complicated menu system. With firmer suspension exaggerating small road imperfections, it was hard to land on the required touch tab — something we never notived in either the i30 N or Golf GTI Original.

The Hyundai i30 N has the best exhaust note – no contest

The other blight on the Honda is its geeky rear wing, which perfectly intersects the driver’s rear vision, blocking out potentially vital objects in the rear-vision mirror, such as patrol cars in pursuit…

After a trek to the track, a glorious day in the Alps and a few hours on the highway, fuel consumption of the three competitors was uncannily close, with the VW furthest from its advertised claim.

For the record, the Honda Civic Type R managed 9.3L/100km (just 0.5L/100km more than its ADR Combined claim of 8.8L.100km), the Hyundai i30 N used 9.9L/100km (1.9L/100km more than its advertised figure), and the Volkswagen Golf GTI Original gulped 9.8L/100km (versus its 6.7L/100km sticker claim).

Giant tachometer for the 2018 Honda Civic Type R? You betcha!

Still sounds good

With its exuberant cracks and pops on the overrun making it sound more like a WRC racer than a hotted-up shopping trolley, we loved the sound of the i30 N a lot more than its more subdued rivals.

Put simply, it was more entertaining — and ultimately more satisfying — to spend a couple of days with over a wide variety of usages, both on public roads and off.

Yes, all three cars of these cars nail the hot hatch brief perfectly in their own unique way, all three reveal a depth of engineering that will impress any driving enthusiast, and all three would make their owners happy for many years.

The Honda Civic Type R is still an incredible apex predator, but is it the best overall?

And yes, the Civic Type R was the fastest on the track. But when you balance that with the fact the Hyundai is considerably cheaper, offers more equipment, was closer to the Honda than the VW on track and feels more resolved over a wider range of road surfaces than both of its rivals, the winner here is pretty obvious.

Add that to the fact Hyundai manages to offer levels of chassis and engine technology more comparable to the Honda for much less money – and back it with a longer, track-applicable warranty – and the i30 N not only nails the hot hatch brief, but rewrites it.

In the Hyundai i30 N, Korea has delivered a stand-out performance hatch that’s not only better than its lauded German rival, but meets the needs of a broader buyer base than its accomplished Japanese foe – for less than $40,000.

This new kid on the block shows a clean pair of heels!

Whether you’re after an occasional track car, a go-fast weekender or just something that’ll make the weekday commute that bit more entertaining, the i30 N is the one car on this test we guarantee will do it all – and with a level of polish you’ll love with each and every drive.

It’s fair to say the new kid on the hot hatch block has made one hell of an impact.

2018 Hyundai i30 N pricing and specifications:

Price: From $39,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Output: 202kW/353Nm (378Nm overboost)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel: 8.0L/100km (ADR Combined), 9.9L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 186g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: N/A
0-100km/h: 6.5sec (as tested)
Lap time: 1:00.542 (as tested)

2018 Honda Civic Type R pricing and specifications:

Price: From $50,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Output: 228kW/400Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel: 8.8L/100km (ADR Combined), 9.3L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 200g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: N/A
0-100km/h: 5.9sec (as tested)
Lap time: 0:59.306 (as tested)

2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Original pricing and specifications:

Price: From $37,490 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Output: 169kW/350Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel: 6.7L/100km (ADR Combined), 9.8L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 152g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP (tested 2013)
0-100km/h: 6.9sec (as tested)
Lap time: 1:01.869 (as tested)




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